As we get into the swing of the school year, parents and teachers have a lot on their minds. Parents want to make sure their students are getting the best education possible. Teachers will be concerned with a whole new class of students and how they can meet the array of student needs. What they probably are not spending much time thinking about is Oregon’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
When the waiver does rise to the level of interest, controversy is likely to be the cause. Unfortunately, issues that gain public attention as the result of controversy are often much more complicated than the sound bites and talking points capture. This is true of the use of student achievement data in educator performance evaluations—one change of many that will come as a result of the waiver.
One test score should never be used to rate and rank a teacher—no one seriously engaged in the education policy conversation believes that is a good idea. What most of us agree on is that being a successful educator means helping students succeed. Educators, like other professionals, deserve relevant feedback to help improve their craft. Where the controversy lies is in how student learning is measured and how that information gets used.
Chalkboard and our partner districts are on the front lines of this issue. Our shared work in educator evaluation has provided strong support for Oregon’s state waiver from onerous federal requirements. Based upon what we have learned from teachers and leaders, we do not support a simplistic one-size-fits-all approach. Using student learning outcomes in educator evaluations is only a good idea if the information can help teachers and students improve. One test score is a snapshot in time and is not particularly useful in understanding student learning trends or improvement.
If a teacher is setting reasonable learning targets for students and regularly achieving them or not, there is something to learn from that information. Likewise, if a school with a significant number of high need students is able to consistently achieve more learning growth than another school with similar students, both schools can learn something based upon instructional practices and measures of educator performance. Using multiple measures to understand student learning or teacher performance is key.
Evaluations should not be used as a “gotcha” tool, but as an instrument for continuous improvement. If we leave student outcomes out of this tool we have ignored a key piece of information. There are ways to look at student learning growth that take into consideration factors outside of a teacher’s control, such as poverty, mobility, attendance, and length of the school year. The Oregon districts that have received a Teacher Incentive Fund grant are using these value-added models and are able to learn from data in new and useful ways. Schools who were formerly considered “failing” under a poorly designed federal rating system are able to demonstrate the tremendous growth their students are actually making. The educators in those schools deserve credit for making gains with some of our highest need students.
Great educators should be recognized and rewarded for their contributions to student learning. Ask any student if all teachers are the same and they will laugh. Students know when they are learning. We owe it to them to take their learning seriously. Including multiple measures of student learning in performance evaluations elevates those outcomes and ensures that important conversations take. Educators who consistently help students improve should be highlighted and encouraged to share their knowledge and skills with others. We shouldn’t be paralyzed by a fear of fairness when it comes to improving outcomes for Oregon’s students.
Including student learning growth in educator performance evaluations is a complex but worthwhile endeavor. The NCLB waiver provides a significant opportunity to have a productive conversation about this issue; one that should not dissolve into a simplistic argument about test scores.